Author’s note: This is the first in what may be a series of “Cardboard Crosswalk” posts comparing cards across sets. Use the Comments to let me know if you’d like to see more articles like this one.
A fun exercise when I flip through my Conlon Collection binder is to match up the classic Charles Conlon photographs on the cards with some of the older baseball cards that used the same images. My focus for this article will be the connection between these Conlon cards and the iconic 1933-34 Goudey sets.
While one normally wouldn’t expect cards issued six decades later to help shed light on sets from the 1930s, I hope we’ll see exactly that by the end of the this post. If not, boy was this a lot of work for nothing!
Defining the sets
Though there are numerous Conlon sets, I’m restricting my focus to the consecutively numbered 1430 cards issued from 1991-1995. Aside from occasional banners and badges on the cards, nearly all of them look quite a bit like this Hank Greenberg from the 1995 grouping.
The 1933 Goudey set, meanwhile, has 240 cards, with the bulk of the set using the “Big League Chewing Gum” banner design of this Rabbit Maranville and just under a third of the cards forgoing the banner, as is the case with this Joe Morrissey card.
Finally, the 1934 Goudey set follows two main designs with 84 of the 96 cards bearing a blue “Lou Gehrig says” banner and 12 cards from the high number series bearing a red “Chuck Klein says” banner.
Comparing the 1933 Goudey images against the Conlon cards
As Charles Conlon was the preeminent baseball photographer of his day, a great many of the images used in pre-war sets derive from his work. Thirty-five of the 240 cards in the 1933 Goudey set show this directly, starting with the very first card in the set.
In some cases, a single Conlon photo supported multiple cards. The most prominent example is the photo shown on card 888 from the Conlon set, which supported Goudey cards 53, 144, and 149 of the Bambino.
In case there is any doubt that this photo was the source for the yellow and red Ruth cards above, here is the same photo cropped and resized. Perfect match.
The most typical application of the Conlon photos involved the small amount of cropping necessary to adjust for the Goudey proportions, a masking of background elements, and of course colorization. The Bengough cards already shown and the Marty McManus cards below show all three of these modifications.
While the yellow and red Ruth cards show the most extreme cropping/zooming, several other cards nonetheless employ cropping and zooming beyond the minimal level needed to fit the Goudey dimensions.
Lou Gehrig on the decline?
The most unusual alteration to a Conlon photo involves this Lou Gehrig card, of which there are two in the set. Something that had always bothered me with these cards was the sense Gehrig was batting down a hill.
We will see this is exactly the case by examining card 529 in the Conlon set.
As the tallness of the original photo was not compatible with the Goudey dimensions, the two simplest modifications, aside from choosing a new photo, would have been to crop or shrink the image. Examples of each approach are shown below.
However, the less aesthetic, more clever option that at least appeals to the ex-mathematician and Pythagoras fanboy in me is to rotate the original image. Sure enough that is exactly what Goudey did. The good news is the card has “more Gehrig” than otherwise; the bad news is we get the “batting down a hill” posture you may never again un-see.
I had a little fun in MS Paint trying to reconstruct what this Gehrig card would have looked like if Goudey hadn’t been so darn clever. I prefer the crop and shrink options considerably over the rotation, though I will put one I like even better at the end of this post.
Okay, enough of the Gehrig card already? Almost.
In hindsight, even without the Conlon photo, there is a clue on the Gehrig that serious hijinks were afoot. Take a look at the third card again, the real Gehrig. See it yet? Okay, here it is.
Yep, that’s the tip of Lou’s bat spilling over onto the border. Had this occurred with any of the other 334 cards in the two Goudey sets, we might just assume some sloppiness or artistic license. However, the Gehrig cards provide the only two examples of this, suggesting the unique approach taken with the photo was the likely culprit.
Complete inventory of 1933 Goudey-Conlon pairs
This post would get very, very long if I added pictures of all thirty-five 1933 Goudey-Conlon pairs, but here is the complete crosswalk for the two sets. (Feel free to contact me if you’d like a document that includes all the card images.)
I’ll preface the listing by acknowledging that there are pairs not on this list where the images were close but in my opinion not the same. There is subjectivity in image matching, and it’s possible a different collector might arrive at a slightly different list.
There is something in our collector DNA that simply loves putting similar cards side by side, whether the Blue Jays/Rangers Bump Wills cards from 1979 or a seven-year run of Steve Garvey all-star cards.
To that end, if all this post does is help you put your 1933 Goudey cards next to their Conlon ancestors (or descendants) or dig up your Garvey cards, then good deal!
On the other hand, if you’re interested in learning more about the Goudey sets from the Conlon crosswalk, definitely read on! There is only one quick preliminary you’ll need to know first.
The 1933 Goudey cards were printed on ten different sheets, with each sheet (or sometimes pairs) having its own release schedule. For example, cards from Sheet 1 were released around the beginning of the season, and cards from Sheet 10 were released after the World Series.
Referring back to the inventory of Conlon-Goudey pairs, we can count up the number of Conlon photos per sheet, graph the data, and quickly spot a pattern.
Even noting that Conlon had thousands of photographs beyond the 1530 that appeared in the 1991-1995 Conlon Collection, the graph very clearly shows Goudey’s decreasing use of Conlon photos as the year progressed. I believe what we are seeing in the graph is the shift from Charles Conlon to George Burke as the main source of photographs for the set.
Just to reinforce the point that the Conlon Collection cards reflect only a fraction of Conlon’s photography, here is a Tony Lazzeri photo of his that did not appear in the Conlon Collection. Based on the graph, you might presume Tony Lazzeri’s card came from a low-numbered sheet in the Goudey set, and you’d be correct: Sheet 1.
And while we’re at it, another Conlon photo not in the Conlon Collection set with a corresponding Goudey card off Sheet 4.
Does this photo make me look younger?
There is another bit of information we can learn about the Goudey set from the Conlon card matches. You may have noticed the Conlon cards pictured in this post all have a year on the front. In most cases the year indicates when the picture was taken, though in some cases it may also/instead indicate the year of a particular feat described on the card. The graph below shows the year distribution of the photos matching the Goudey set.
The main takeaway, which I suspect many of you already knew, is that the images in the Goudey set are hardly confined to the preceding twelve months as we’ve become accustomed to with modern sets. Instead these photos span an entire decade. Combining this information with the earlier graph yields this (at least approximate) picture of the 1933 set.
- Began from largely older photos from Conlon
- Grew through (probably) newer/current photos from Burke
We can also use the wide range of image dates to better understand a distinction between Ruth’s card 181 (greenish one) and the other three Ruth cards in the set.
If you ever imagined that the “green” Ruth (card 181) looked a lot older than the Ruth on the set’s other three cards, it may be because he is! We know from Conlon card 888 that cards 53, 144, and 149 of Ruth are based on a 1927 photo. Meanwhile, the photograph behind card 181 was most likely taken in 1932 or 1933, a good 5-6 years later in people years or 15-18 years later in Ruth years.
Action too good to be true
I’ll close out the 1933 crosswalk with one last tidbit, again probably not surprising to most collectors: the action shots in the 1933 set are faked!
Ignoring the lack of a catcher and umpire, that Goudey card of Jimmy Dykes sure looks like he just took a mighty swing. Was it a homer? A hard liner into the gap? A searing line drive just over the third baseman’s head? None of the above, of course! It was just a warm-up swing near the dugout.
Very brief look at 1934 Goudey
You may have noticed that I have said nothing about the 1934 Goudey set since the introduction to this post. There is a good reason for that. True, there are three cards from the set that have partners in the Conlon Collection, but…
All three of these cards (numbers 1, 11, and 14) come from the first of the four 1934 sheets, in which all 24 cards reused images from the 1933 set. In other words, there’s nothing new here.
However, I do at least want to update a graph from the previous section. I’ll use the labels 11-14 for the four sheets that made up the 1934 Goudey set. Even more clearly than before, we can see the phasing out of Conlon images, presumably in favor of Burke.
I won’t lie. It was a tedious exercise to compare nearly 2000 cards. As I own only a handful of the Goudey cards, I didn’t even get the thrill of laying actual cardboard side-by-side. Still, it was a fun bit of work to compare the sets, and I felt like a successful person every time I found a match. I was also particularly gratified to solve the mystery of the downhill Gehrig.
And finally, here is the the new and improved Gehrig I promised. Just don’t look too closely. I hardly do this for a living!